The disappearing Norwegians / Columns / The Foreigner

The disappearing Norwegians. We were on our way to dinner the first time it happened. Though we’d lived in Oslo only a few weeks, we’d already found a favorite pizza place. Priorities are important. So, we strolled down the hill hand-in-hand toward Pizza da Mimmo in Frogner one July evening after work, anticipating our order. “Four cheese for me,” I said.

norway, summer



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The disappearing Norwegians

Published on Wednesday, 23rd July, 2014 at 13:32 under the columns category, by Audrey Camp.

We were on our way to dinner the first time it happened. Though we’d lived in Oslo only a few weeks, we’d already found a favorite pizza place.

Deserted road in Oslo
A common sight in the summer in Norway.Deserted road in Oslo
Photo: Quevaal/Yosh3000/Wikimedia Commons


Priorities are important. So, we strolled down the hill hand-in-hand toward Pizza da Mimmo in Frogner one July evening after work, anticipating our order.

“Four cheese for me,” I said.

“Spicy peppers and sausage,” said my husband, Jonathan.

Drooling, we turned the corner and approached the entrance. The red, green and white awning flapped in the evening breeze. But when we reached out and pulled on the door handle, it wouldn’t budge. The windows were dark.

“It’s Friday night. How can they not be open?”

Then we noticed a hand-written note in the window.

Vi er Sommerstengt. Translation: We are closed for the summer.

This uniquely European concept was tough for us to swallow at first, and it began to pop up more and more. Ice cream vendors in the park were missing. Our language class was cancelled for a week. Some large stores posted different, shorter hours of opening, while smaller shops were often closed completely.

Twice we ran out to the grocery store to purchase milk, only to find them closed early, and were forced to turn to 7-Eleven (and their drastically marked-up dairy selection) as a last resort.

Three years later, we don’t count on anything being open in July. We always check the restaurant’s website first for sommertimer (summer hours) before heading out to dinner. And we plan our transportation more carefully, as trains, trams and buses also run on adjusted schedules for the month.

If you’re wondering how the general population handles this huge inconvenience, allow me to explain.

Norwegians feel entitled to their time off from work. It’s that simple. In a society that rewards hard work with high pay and secure pensions, burn-out is avoided by also offering multiple weeks of paid vacation time and little pressure about when or how to redeem it.

My husband Jonathan’s office, like many in Norway, is almost empty in the month of July as Norwegians classically take the bulk of their vacation this time of year. Even those not traveling end up spending staycations in Oslo, relaxing or working on home projects. This kind of thing is unheard of in the U.S. – where personnel have a lot less paid vacation time to begin with, but are also forced to coordinate schedules with their coworkers to avoid leaving too many desks unmanned all at once.

Jonathan and I have begun to adapt to several Norwegian sensibilities over the years. Paying high taxes, for example, nets us healthcare, safe streets, clean water, and an impressive infrastructure. Surviving the long, dark winter requires cross-country skiing and other outdoor activities. No problem.

But this sense of entitlement surrounding time off of work is, simultaneously, one of the strangest and the most compelling ways of Norwegian life.

This month, we plan to travel to Bardufoss, north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. This is our bid to see the Midnight Sun. However, we got the following responses when we mentioned this upcoming trip to several Norwegian friends.

“Bardufoss? Yes, I’ve been there. It’s where I did my military training.”

“I spent a year there in the military. It was too long. A little like hell.”

“See this? Right next to the hytte [cabin] you’ve rented is the perimeter of the mountain where they do live munitions testing.”

“Good luck! Remember mosquito repellents and nets. And DDT. And a flamethrower. Perhaps also some nukes.”

To live in a foreign country is to blunder like this. Taking a sip of my beer, I asked one of these friends, “Do you think we should try to get our tickets refunded? Are we going to be surrounded by soldiers and tanks, and listening to explosions all night long?”

He laughed and lifted his glass up high to meet mine. “Nah. Maybe you’ll get lucky and the bases will all be sommerstengt!”

Audrey Camp is a freelance writer and American expat living in Oslo with an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Her essays have appeared in a variety literary magazines and anthologies, including Inspiring Generations: 150 Years, 150 Stories from Yosemite. Audrey blogs about life in Norway at The Girl Behind the Red Door. To learn more, visit audreycamp.com., Twitter: @audreycamp.



Published on Wednesday, 23rd July, 2014 at 13:32 under the columns category, by Audrey Camp.

This post has the following tags: norway, summer.





  
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